Just a hockey shift or two before the clock ticked to 1:30 p.m. Pacific time Monday, Ron Francis added one more piece of history to his feat-filled Hall of Fame scoresheet. The general manager called to order the first-ever pro scouts meeting for the NHL Seattle franchise.
"Welcome to Seattle," said Francis to his five-person scouting staff, along with assistant GM Ricky Olczyk, director of hockey strategy and research Alexandra Mandrycky and quantitative analyst Dani Chu. "We are going to take the time to go through every NHL roster. We will talk about this summer's free-agent list, even though we can't sign anyone until the following summer. We will be doing at least one mock [expansion] draft this week. It will change dramatically between now and June 2021. But it will be good to go through the exercises."
All those plans are dreamy for Seattle hockey fans. The scouts themselves are thrilled to be in town and, in many cases, meeting each other face-to-face for the first time. A steady diet of conference calls has nurtured the group, especially to establish scouting report standards and plan out who is attending which NHL and American Hockey League games to help build a database that now numbers 400-plus and growing. But sitting together will accelerate the sharing of information and evaluative opinions.
During interviews this week, most of the five scouts offered that Francis and Olczyk likely designed an independent approach for the first few months of the season. It allowed everyone to adjust to their own scout-duties learning curves and form perspectives on individual players. This week is an opportunity to compare notes.
"I am definitely speaking my mind and opinions," said Ulf Samuelsson Tuesday night before taking part in a "Science of Scouting" panel at a sold-out PACCAR IMAX Theatre at Pacific Science Center. "I might have been called a few names…well, not really. But there have definitely been healthy discussions."
Francis would have it no other way. During Monday's opening session he looked around the table, making eye contact with each of the five pro scouts: Cammi Granato (Olympic gold medalist, Hockey Hall of Famer, first-ever NHL pro scout); Stu Barnes (16-year NHL playing career, four more as a NHL assistant coach); Dave Hunter (10 years as a scout for the Carolina Hurrricanes working for Francis and Ricky Olczyk); John Goodwin (former juniors teammate and long-time coach in the Ontario Hockey League) and Samuelsson (a former Francis teammate and long-time roommate who was traded from the Hartford Whalers to Pittsburgh at the 1991 trade deadline, resulting in back-to-back Stanley Cup victories in 1991 and 1992).
"You were all hired for a reason," Francis told them. "You are capable of good work. I want your opinions,"
No problem on that one. Goodwin said his bosses encourage each scout and analyst to "be brutally honest about players' upsides or lack of one. Granato said Olczyk, a friend since childhood when played against each other, encourages her to "trust my gut" during every discussion.
The scouts, Mandrycky, Chu, Olczyk and Francis combed every NHL roster, 31 in all, to debate player skills sets and hockey IQs. Sometimes with consensus, other times with give-and-take. One objective was to speculate which players might be available in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft that will fill out, for the most part, the franchise's first team on the ice.
All of the scouts were excited to meet face-to-face. "It's been great to meet or reconnect with everyone this week," said Barnes. "We have learned a lot individually about our jobs. It helps so much to compare notes from what we have put in our reports. It's my first year as purely a scout. It is less stress [than his former assistant coaching role with the Dallas Stars]. The scout
Looks at a more distance picture, where players are going to be now and the future, even during the season. Player performance can change a lot from September to February. It all about looking out to the future, months or even years ahead. As a coach, the mindset is you got win tonight, get your [line and defensive] combos right, win the next night.
Hunter is most experienced scout among the five. He helped Francis and Olczyk draft and acquite the core of players that fueled Carolina's run to the Eastern Conference last spring, achieving the NHL's version of the Final Four. "I believe pro scouting is about watching the body language of players," he said during an interview and no doubt in the hockey operations conference room nearby the New Arena at Seattle Center construction site. For example, he likes to watch how players react to a busted offensive play-do they get hustle back on defense or slam a stick in anger.
The NHL Seattle hockey brain trust planned to conduct a historic mock draft parting ways Thursday night to return home to their scouting territories to resume close study of NHL and American Hockey League players: Barnes in Dallas, Goodwin in Toronto, Granato in Vancouver, Hunter in Boston, Samuelsson in southern California, plus Olczyk in Chicago and Francis in Carolina for now. There have been international trips for Olczyk and Francis. The database of scouting reports will continue to grow.
There will be more mock drafts. The work continues. Samuelsson said he anticipates his former roommate/teammate and now boss will narrow the list of players to scout as the all-important expansion draft approaches. The debates will likely get heated at times, but the GM expects a unified group.
"There are no bad questions," Francis told the group in the days before the first mock draft. "Remember we are all in this together."